Wow! Valencia (2)

There was just so much to see, so many places to go and such a lot of interesting buildings wherever we went.

The medieval silk exchange, Llotja de la Seda, was a shock. Not due to the beauty of the place but the volume of visitors. Somehow we’d been sheltered from mainstream tourism, suddenly we were flung right into it. Rightly so, it’s an inspiring place and a World Heritage Site.  The spiral columns are an absolute marvel, the orange tree courtyard strangely peaceful and from the outside it looks like a gothic cathedral!

Equally bold, in it’s way, is the futuristic design of the City of Arts and Sciences, 21st century architecture at it’s most amazing.

There’s a arts centre/opera house, a planetarium/cinema, a science museum and an aquarium. It took us most of a day to visit the last two.

It seems the City is still in debt for the huge cost of construction and there are already maintenance issues but the whole area had a very positive vibe.

Different again, the Museum of Prehistory is housed in the former Casa de Beneficia, Charity House, organised round five courtyards in traditional 19th century Valencian style. It’s exhibitions cover the life and labours of human societies in the Valencia region from prehistoric times up to the Roman period. Fascinating, if you like that kind of thing! We couldn’t take it all in, we got up to the 5th century BC so we’ll have to go back to learn more. The reconstruction of a house from this period was illuminating – but where did they sleep?

As much as anything we enjoyed walking the streets, enjoying the atmosphere, the graffiti and the food!

Next we went to Girona.

Wow! Valencia

We loved Valencia. It was only a short journey by bus and taxi from Biar but such a contrast. After week of rural tranquillity we were both ready for a taste of city life and Valencia offered everything we could wish for.

So here, in no particular order are some of the things we enjoyed.

We stayed right in the heart of the old quarter with it’s tiny, winding streets. One hundred and eighty years old, the building we stayed in was in perfect harmony. Here’s what the apartment looked like inside. Notice the beautiful floor tiles!i

That’s me in the mirror!

And outside, with Alan on the balcony.

On a recommendation from Andrew, one of the Biar walkers, we sought out the paintings of Joaquin Sorolla in the Museo de Bellas Artes. Born in Valencia in 1863, Sorolla was a hugely successful modern painter. Like his impressionist contemporaries he love painting in sunlight producing beach scenes, landscapes, portraits and more.

Most of the other works in the gallery are much older and include examples by the Spanish greats including Goya, Velasquez and El Greco.

We went to the market, a very impressive art nouveau building, where we bought fruit and olive oil. Nearby we came across a well-stocked, traditional hat shop, all styles available and so we bought a hat!

The Turia River used to run through the centre of the city to the sea. After parts of the city were devastated by floods in 1957 it was diverted south of the city. This major intervention left a huge tract of river bed which has been turned into a vast urban park running through the city. It’s well maintained and well used.

We hired bikes for a day and rode through the Turia Gardens to the beach, a vast expanse of sand. It was very sunny but windy and the sea was decided chilly – paddling only!


The next post will be about other amazing buildings in Valencia and the museums we visited.

Moros y Cristianos

Or, in English, Moors and Christians. These festivals commemorate the 700 years when much of Spain was occupied by the Moors, who were Muslims from North Africa, and the eventual reconquest by Catholic monarchs in the late 15th century. Usually the capture of a town or city by the Moors is enacted followed by the subsequent reconquest by the Christians. Miniature castles are erected where mock battles are staged and there are processions and other events over several days with different groups representing the two sides all wearing elaborate costumes.

Biar and the surrounding towns are famous for their celebrations. We were a week too early to enjoy the ones in Biar but the castle was already in place in the main square. But a week too late for nearby Alcoi, reputed to be the most impressive festival of all, where the castle was being dismantled the day I was there! More about my visit to Alcoi in another post.

Eventually we did manage to see the final procession of the celebrations in another nearby town, Onil.

These events are so big that in Alcoi there is a museum solely dedicated to them and in Biar there is a tailor whose only business appears to be making festival costumes.

Next we’ll be posting about the lovely city of Valencia!

Return to La Mariposa


We had a ride in La Bastilla’s pickup to Jinotega bus station where there were no seats left on the 9am bus to Managua.  So we bought our tickets for the 10.30 service and sat down to wait, fortified by instant coffee and a packet of “Maria” biscuits.

After 3.5 hours on the bus we were delighted to see the Mariposa bus and the driver, Joshua, waiting for us at Mayoreo bus station.

It was busy week.  First we set off to see how the spider monkeys were doing. Very well, it turned out, in fact when we arrived the female had undone her lead and was enjoying her liberty on the shed roof! We discovered that setting the world to rights whilst monkey watching is a most relaxing activity! The plan is to eventually set them free but continue to provide food, hammocks and night boxes.

Next we went shopping for plants –  for the garden outside the cabin and the space at the hotel where the parakeet cage had been demolished. Also on our list were a birdbath and a tree for Richard, one of the staff who was leaving at the end of the week. The poor old bus was pretty full on the way back!

Together with Paulette we went to nearby Jinotepe to sample ‘the best Italian restaurant in Nicaragua’ to discover we had another ninety minute wait before it opened.  Instead of coffee and biscuits we had a couple of beers in Barry’s bar before an excellent dinner and a bottle of wine. Surprisingly, there were some sore heads next morning!

Next day there were speeches and a cake for Richard.

At the weekend Janie and las chicas came to visit – which mean two extra beds had to be delivered to the cabin, fortunately there’s lots of room. It was a hectic two days. At night the girls played dominoes while the adults enjoyed the evening on the patio sampling Nicaraguan rum. Of course we went monkey watching – Paulette said ‘Don’t touch the monkeys’, Zaira and Sienna took that to mean there was no problem if the monkeys touched them!

The cabin and garden are looking lovely now, as well as the planting the shutters and doors have been varnished, the outside walls painted together with the kitchen, toilet and shower. Even the floor of the shower has been tiled.  We really hope that it will be attractive to guests who prefer self contained accommodation away from the bustle of the hotel. It’s a great place to enjoy the rural environment and watch the birds.

A highlight was the arrival of two of the parakeets who were set free in the first week – they were using an abandoned ant’s nest up a tree to make a home for themselves.

And then it was time to come home where a lovely English Spring was already underway.





North to Esteli

Esteli is the home of our friend Janie and her daughters, Zaira and Siena. Janie founded Cafe Luz, Luna International Hostel and the Treehuggers Information Centre, , to provide income to support a range of development projects in the surrounding area. A key project is the Library Bus (El bibliobus El Libro Volador) which offers reading opportunities to children at local schools where supplies of books are limited. Currently the book stock is not sufficient to enable loans but there is plenty of time to read when the bus visits. At the same time assistance is now being given to enable the schools to develop organic gardens to increase the supply of fresh vegetables for the pupils.
The first morning we joined in a brainstorming session to discuss future branding in the light of current developments in social media including hashtags (#). We quickly realised that this is a complex subject which none of us fully understand. Then we stumbled around terminology such as ‘social enterprise’ and ‘not for profit’ which are used here to describe this sort of sustainable business model. These terms have different meanings to visitors from different parts of the world which we were helping to homogenise. Janie needs a knowledgeable volunteer to tackle all this however, in their absence, we’ll all do our best to find out more and make suggestions. Marketing is now key to attracting visitors, volunteers and donations to support initiatives to step up a bit within the rapidly growing technology of Nicaragua.
We also had lots of fun!
We went to the protected Tisey reserve La Garnacha for lunch in a rustic comedor and a view of the surrounding volcanoes, all currently active! There are homestays here and the residents also make cheese, keep goats and make compost for sale.
Another friend Maggie Jo, also from U.K. was in and around Esteli. She was visiting friends she made several years ago when she was involved in a project to teach English to adults in the Miraflor protected area. They were setting up homestays in order to encourage tourism in this remote area where organic shade grown coffee is the main crop.
Together we all went out and about around Esteli. One day we were having lunch in a rather splendid resort hotel with swimming pools which also happened to be opposite the entrance to the local prison. We heard sounds like gunfire – an escape? And then realised it was coconuts hitting the hotel roof as they were thrown from the tree by the workers!
At dinner at Janie’s house we played an extended game of dominoes with the children while Janie cooked. Meanwhile fruit bats flew in and out to roost as the house is open to the garden!
It was a great week but we couldn’t stay forever. On Friday Janie drove us to La Bastilla, an eco-lodge near Jinotega. More about that in the next post.


Return to La Mariposa

We’ve just spent two weeks at La Mariposa Hotel and Spanish School. We stayed in the cabin at La Reserva where a beautiful garden has grown since our visit last year.
Jan studied Spanish for 2 weeks, 4 hours a day. Alan managed the first week and then became a volunteer, gardening and helping a local young man practice his English. In the afternoons we joined in some of the activities with other students and volunteers. We visited the beautiful Laguna de Apoyo, went to the Pacific beach and took a couple of outings to the colonial city of Granada including a boat trip round the islands on the lake. We visited the majestic Volcán Masaya at night to see the red glow from the slowly moving magma – it really was like gazing into the centre of the earth!One evening a Mariachi band came to play.
We also found time to relax and set the world to rights with our friend Paulette in her beautiful garden.
La Mariposa and it’s projects are a great example of sustainable tourism at it’s very best.
There’s a lot more interesting information on the website

At it’s various locations La Mariposa is home to a wide range of rescued animals including two white rabbits, 23 retired horses, over 50 dogs and more than 20 cats. A group of capuchin monkeys, victims of illegal trafficking, were brought in by the Police. There’s also a toucan, parakeets and other assorted birds mostly rescued from a life imprisoned in a small cage or  on a chain.
Many of these, including the capuchins and toucan have spent too long in captivity to survive in the wild and La Mariposa will be their lifetime home.
For others release back into the wild is a possibility and we were privileged to witness the opening of a cage to free a group of six parakeets. They seemed reluctant to leave at first! The following week a second group’s cage had be demolished around them.
Two spider monkeys who had lived chained as pets have been purchased from their previous owners and now live in the trees at the 140 acre Cañada Honda site bought to protect the wooded area from deforestation. Currently they are on long leads, have made friends and, in the near future, will be released one at a time to enjoy roaming in their splendid natural home. We were there on the day they were introduced.

Now we’ve moved on to visit our friends in Esteli but we’ll be back soon for our final week.


Valparaiso… some history by Alan

O’Higgins’ man walked into the Portsmouth tavern to see the two men he had sailed for several months to meet.Two sea captains “on the beach” after the end of the Napoleonic War. Captains Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey were out of work as were many others. Chile had just gained it’s independence in 1815 and President O’Higgins was on the look out for men to form a navy

Admiral Cochrane (the sea wolf) and other ex British Naval Officers and crew did come to Valparaiso in 1818 and created the Navy. More Europeans, British, German, French and Swiss arrived and Valparaiso was transformed into the most successful port on the Pacific Coast.

There was no Panama Canal and so ships stopped here after passing through the dangerous Magellan Straits. The nitrate trade and for a while prospectors bound for the California Gold Rush made the port highly wealthy and successful.

The British presence was a strong influence – Cochrane, O’Brien and Simpson are amongst many street names – also A Prat, but we don’t know who he was.. Many homes were built in an English terraced style as well as the grand mansions of the industrial magnates. 

That was until 1906. An earthquake struck and then the Panama Canal was completed in 1914 providing shorter, safer routes. The nitrate trade started to dry up because a cheaper manufacturing process had been discovered and by 1930 the city was a former shadow of itself.

It is only recently that Valparaiso has started to regain its former importance through tourism (it’s a world heritage site) and it can cater for the huge modern container ships that cannot pass through the Panama Canal.

 (Horatio and Jack are fictional sea captions well known to the English male. OHIggins and Cochrane were there making history.)

The photo is of Valparaiso’s naval arch which commemorates these British adventurers.